Monday, May 30, 2011


The other day I went to see Cao Fei's brilliant show at Lombard-Freid Projects on West 19th Street in Chelsea.  I had never realized the gallery has a garden terrace which makes for a wonderfully truncated view of Frank Gehry's stunning IAC building on 11th Avenue and 19th Street.
The building is as perfect as the Parthenon and to me (along with his Disney Hall) represents the height of Gehry's achievement.  The scale and materiality as well as the complete grasp of site is of the highest order.  Across the street is Jean Nouvel's residential 100 11th Avenue--a building whose spirit owes more to the Gehry of 1978 than the more classically inclined master today.  Some dislike Nouvel's building, but I find it another in the series of great  buildings that have popped up in NYC over the past 3 years:  Gehry's IAC and 8 Spruce St., Thom Mayne's Cooper-Union, Piano's Morgan Library and  Foster's Hearst Building and Diller and Scofidio's remarkable High Line transformation.

This has lifted the game of ordinary NYC architecture remarkably.  In Brooklyn,  the Williamsburg area is dotted with sleek 4/5 story glass boxes that update the brownstone for the 21st Century.    In Manhattan,  every new tower has to at least look like architecture.  In the 80s and 90s the ubiquitous new NYC building was a brick atrocity made  by the cheap on the cheap.  Richard Meier's twin towers along West Street nearly a decade ago helped higher the bar and even though so many buildings have copied it ever since (like the building I live in), if you have to copy something, it may as well be that one.   

To be sure there have been some disappointments;  Piano's New York Times building is a dry hulking nothing while MoMA's Taniguchi expansion is uninspired.   But overall, the city has never looked better shedding the dowdiness that had always characterized New York City until recently.  Of course some would argue that's what happens when you transform a city into a place primarily for the upper middle class and beyond.  But I'm just judging the buildings and not really considering the great tragedy of losing that crappy deli down the street that had been here since 1959.  

Cao Fei is at Lombard-Fried through June 25 

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